The New York Yankees’ 5-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday was a reassuring victory on multiple fronts. After dropping the first two games of the series, the Yankees were starving for a win to stop their slide and make it possible to extend their reign atop the increasingly middling American League East division. They also needed to prove to themselves that they can triumph over an opponent despite not receiving a passable contribution from the starting pitcher. It is the rare contest in which the Yankees offense displays enough potency to overcome the shortcomings of their starting pitcher, but they managed that rare feat on Saturday as the offense saved the team from the lackluster start from pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and then the bullpen came in to make it possible for the Yankees’ comeback to mean something.
By now, the Yankees organization no doubt wishes Eovaldi would just make up his mind regarding which pitcher he is going to be during his tenure with the club. While Eovaldi continues to tantalize observers with his potential, whenever he is on the mound, he also infuriates with his extreme levels of inconsistency and his inability to put together more complete and effective outings. On Saturday, Eovaldi showcased some of the better and worst sides of his pitching personality.
In his 4.7 innings of work, Eovaldi made it harder on himself and the entire team by giving the Athletics far too many opportunities to put the ball in play against him. When a pitcher is backed up by a poor defense like the one the Yankees possess, the best avenue for a pitcher would be to avoid at all costs putting his defense in a position to try to convert balls put into play into outs. But Eovaldi failed to heed that advice and during his time on the mound, 22 of the 24 batters that he faced put the ball in play against him and the Yankees defense, which unsurprisingly led to an extreme number of hits for the Athletics offense. The Athletics recorded 11 hits against Eovaldi in the short frame of time he was in the game, achieving a stellar .500 batting average on balls in play.
If Eovaldi were all bad as a pitcher, giving up 11 hits over a compressed time period would have resulted in the Athletics managing to really run up the score against him and wrecking his already unimpressive earned run average. But Eovaldi does have talent in his right arm so he was able to mitigate the effect of all the Athletics’ productive plate appearances. Of the 11 base runners that Eovaldi allowed, only three came around to score so what could have been an incredibly disastrous start for the Yankees’ win probability became merely an incompetent one. Because of the way in which Eovaldi was able to rally in between bouts of being terrible, he prevented the Yankees from falling behind by an insurmountable deficit.
The last run that Eovaldi surrendered put the Yankees behind 3-1 on the scoreboard, but the Yankees offense was undaunted by the deficit and laid waste to the Athletics’ advantage with their exploits in the fifth and sixth innings. The fifth inning saw the Yankees use a two-out Jose Pirela single, a fielding error by Athletics third baseman Brett Lawrie that put Brett Gardner on base and extended the inning, and then an RBI single by Chase Headley to cut their deficit to one run. After manufacturing their second run of the contest, the Yankees elected to score their third and fourth runs of the game in more dramatic fashion, with a Brian McCann walk being followed by Carlos Beltran, who blasted a two-run home run in the sixth inning for a hit that was worth .318 win probability added.
For the first time since Eovaldi had relinquished the Yankees’ first lead in the third inning, the Yankees were back on top and this advantage they would not soon let go of thanks to the work of the bullpen. The Yankees bullpen was responsible for recording the final 13 outs of the contest, and they did it in spectacular fashion, only allowing the Athletics one hit and retiring 13 of the 14 batters they faced. They would receive some more breathing room for their final two innings of action when Beltran drove in his third run of the contest with his RBI single in the eighth inning, but it was not like they needed it. Even a razor thin margin of error was plenty for the Yankees bullpen with the way they pitched on Saturday.
Three games into the series against the Athletics, the Yankees have yet to recapture the proficiency that gave them the ability to run roughshod over the Kansas City Royals, but Saturday’s result was a good start as the Yankees hope to even up the series with a win on Sunday.